Let’s talk about weaning.
Just to be clear, I’m not some chick off the internet who wants to tell you how to raise your baby. I’m writing this because before I came to weaning my child I’d always assumed I’d wean in the ‘conventional’ way and didn’t even know the fun of blw existed. Baby led weaning has been a fun, messy, occasionally nerve wracking, but overwhelmingly positive experience for us and I just have to share.
This article isn’t really about how to do baby led weaning, although the process is pretty simple. It’s about how it works, answering some of the most frequently asked questions and dispelling some of the myths that surround weaning.
What is Baby Led Weaning (blw) or Baby Led Solids (bls)?
It’s an overly complex way of saying that you never give your baby any puréed food and you don’t feed them with a spoon. You give them normal adult food and they refine their pincer grip and fine motor skills learning how to pick the food up and put it in their mouth and you get on with eating your own lunch while this is going on.
They won’t eat straight away, it may take days, weeks or months before they even swallow a bite but that’s not a problem for us blw families, as you will see later. The idea is that their general motor development is an indicator of their readiness to eat and digest solid food, so by not spooning food into them we are allowing them to develop these skills when they are ready and at their own pace as they do with sitting, walking and talking.
But, my baby needs purée don’t they?
They really don’t. There are healthy happy babies all over the world whose mothers have no use for a blender, a masher or a jar of Heinz baby food.The purée thing started when doctors became more involved with childbirth and how mothers were feeding their babies; they told mothers that they needed to establish a breastfeeding schedule instead of feeding on demand.
But, as we now know, breastfeeding is a case of supply and demand, reducing the frequency of those early feeds convinces the mother’s body that the baby needs less milk so it produces less. As that cycle continued, babies began to get thinner.
So the doctors of the time came up with a solution, which was to feed those babies solids much earlier than you would naturally do. And the only way to give a baby that young solid food is to purée it and feed it with a spoon.
That was then.
But now we understand more about the way breastfeeding works and just what a super food this is for our children,
And now we have access to more complete and digestible baby formulas than any mother in history has ever had access to.
So now we don’t need to wean our babies at 10 weeks or any time before 6 months (the age recommended by the WHO).
And a six month old baby can sit up, can raise its own hands to its mouth and can chew and swallow on their own. So there’s no need to give them purée.
You can if you want to, you won’t do any harm, there are lots of healthy adults around who were fed purées (in fact, you probably are one) but this article is about knowing that it’s a choice not a necessity.
Feeding your baby the same food as you are eating, sharing the experience, flavour and nutrition from what you have chosen is such a natural and instinctive thing to do. No way our ancestors were looking for somewhere to plug the KitchenAid in before they fed their little one!
Will they choke?
Spoon-feeding a baby promotes the instinct to swallow without chewing so a puree fed baby learns to swallow before they learn to chew. A blw baby learns to put food in their mouth, bite it into manageable pieces, move that food to the back of their mouth, then they learn how to swallow the food. Both methods eventually end up with a baby who can chew and eat but for me the second method seems natural and right and honestly… safer. Sure, a blw baby can choke, so can a purée fed baby and so can a perfectly healthy adult.
I’d recommend a baby first aid course however you’re planning on weaning your baby. And also some basic safety precautions, make sure your baby can sit well, never leave them alone whilst eating and avoid those foods not recommended for young children like whole peanuts and honey.
My baby hasn’t got any teeth, how can they chew?
The teeth are right there under the gums and for most foods they won’t have a problem. It gets easier for them once some of those teeth come through but I can testify that my son has eaten a goodly portion of steak well before he got any teeth!
The iron thing (it comes up a lot so might as well tackle it here).
It goes something like this… The UK government wanted to promote breastfeeding so they banned advertising of formula for babies under six months old. In response the formula manufacturers invented “follow-on” or 6 month plus milk, but even with this new product they were still legally obliged to promote breastfeeding as the best source of nutrition for babies under six months. What could they possibly say in their ads to convince us to switch to their product at six months?
And that’s where the iron thing comes in. It is to those formula manufacturers’ enormous advantage that we worry about whether our babies are getting enough iron. The reality is that most healthy babies and mothers will be fine, that a baby’s need for iron does not suddenly increase at six months nor does a mother’s milk suddenly become inadequate In the same way a baby does not need puree, they do not need iron enriched rice cereal.
It’s important to be aware of the risks that you run when you make a particular parenting decision but it’s also important to be aware of the circumstances under which some ‘facts’ enter common parlance.
But surely my baby needs to eat a certain amount of solid food per day, like I do?
If you’re squeamish, look away now; I’m going to talk about poo a little bit.
A secret that only a blw parent can only be privy to is that for a matter of weeks or months when you begin to give your baby solids they don’t digest their food at all! Everything that goes in their mouth comes out the other end pretty much the same way it went in. This happens to purée fed babies too, you just can’t tell because their food is kind of “pre-chewed” for them and looks awfully similar coming out to the way it did going in.
Consider your miraculous child for a moment. Now consider all the wonderful things they achieve and consider how long it takes them. From their first stumbling attempt to the perfect facebook video of “baby’s first steps” can be around a year.
So why do we imagine that a baby goes from taking all of its nutrition from one simple and complete source (milk) to the complexities of digesting solid food overnight? Those first foods are practice for their little guts to start learning what they will need to do as they grow, they are not, in themselves, a source of nutrition.
BLW-ers have a saying “food is fun until they’re one”. This means for the majority of babies they will still get most of their nutrition from milk (breast or formula) for months after they begin on solid food.
Oh, and I forgot the most important fact of all!!!
It’s so much fun!!!
Baby led weaning has been a constant joy to us since the day we started. Nothing made me prouder and happier in the early days than seeing my son picking up some new food and tasting it for the first time. Nothing makes me prouder today than taking him to a restaurant, ordering him his own meal and seeing him picking up his real knife and fork and feeding himself.
My son enjoys food, he knows he is in control, that he can stop eating something he doesn’t like or need and ask for more of something he does. He gets ‘messy play’ every day and his fine motor skills are excellent as a result of the practice he gets at every meal
Weaning has been relaxing for us, I’ve never had to spoon a puree into his screaming face,.I’ve never had to make special food for my son. I’ve never worried that a meal time is approaching and I’ve left ‘his’ food at home. I’ve never had to ask a restaurant to microwave his jar of food and I’ve never had to spoon feed my baby while my own dinner cools and congeals on my plate. Meals for us have been shared, fun, family experiences and I wouldn’t do it any other way.
It’s messy. Whatever age your child is when they learn to feed themselves it will be messy but this is messy for longer! You need bibs and a philosophical approach to cleaning.
It’s long. Depending on your child it can take weeks or months for them to learn to eat, and each meal can be long as you allow them to explore the food.
The salt thing. With purées you make separate food for your baby and you know there’s no salt in there. With blw as you’re feeding them adult food you need to be aware of the salt content of the food you are giving them.
The noise. To begin with the baby will practice moving food from the back of their mouth to the front. It’s a good skill to learn but it’s accompanied by a coughing noise and (in our case) redness of face, which will never fail to get your heart racing. Choking is silent, but that won’t stop you worrying if your baby makes that noise in the early days!
The anxious parent. Every baby will end up eating solid food however you choose to do it so you need to be aware of what kind of parent you are before you make your weaning choices. If you’re an anxious parent, the happy go lucky approach of the blw-er is probably not for you.
Other people’s comments and expectations! BLW is different and it frightens some people. To enjoy it you need to be sure in your choice, for some people it’s easier just to do what people expect you to do.
Some myths about weaning
When you wean and how you wean, it’s up to you. But here are a few things that I commonly hear said about weaning that are essentially myths – have a read, do your research and make sure you make the right choice for your family whatever that is. When you’re contemplating the origin of these myths, be aware that for every early weaner there’s a happy baby rice manufacturer somewhere.
My baby is interested in what I’m eating, I need to wean them before 6 months?
Of course your baby is interested in food, they’re interested in everything you do, but they don’t understand what eating is yet, it takes months for them to connect hunger with eating rather than milk. So they aren’t looking at your plate because they’re hungry, they’re looking because they’re interested in everything you do.
My baby is big, I need to wean them early?
If your baby is big, they’re clearly doing just fine on milk or formula, sure, wean them if you want to but there’s no need.
My baby is small, I need to wean them early?
Breast milk or formula is the MOST complete easily digestible source of nutrition for your baby. Pureed veggies and rice cereal are low fat and have few vitamins relative to milk, give them solids if it makes you happy but know that their small stomach space is best taken up by that fantastic milk!
If I give my baby solids, they’ll sleep through the night…
Babies do what babies do, some sleep, some don’t. Some mums swear by early weaning as a way to get through the night and it may work. Ask yourself if you want your baby to be sleeping through a milk feed that they obviously still need because their stomach is full of a currently indigestible purée or rice cereal.
So what do I recommend for You and Your baby?
Predictably enough I won’t tell you what you should do! Baby led weaning is safe, enjoyable, natural and felt so right for us that I genuinely can’t imagine doing it any other way. As the mother of a healthy, happy, energetic solid-food eating eighteen month old, I’m so glad we skipped all the puréeing, progressing to lumps and spoon feeding and went straight for the good stuff!